NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Those ailing stars are almost healthy, and the Mets need them back.
Clay Hensley came off the disabled list to win his first major league start in three years and the Florida Marlins beat the punchless Mets 4-1 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 10 games.
The Mets expect star shortstop Jose Reyes (hamstring) and slugger Carlos Beltran (flu) to return on Tuesday, with third baseman David Wright (back) soon to follow this week.
“They’re the game-changers. They can spark the offense, drive in runs. We’ll be excited to get them back,” Mets starter Chris Capuano said.
But on this night, the Mets looked listless and inept at the plate.
“Any team in this league that loses guys like that are going to have a tough time getting offense generated,” manager Terry Collins said. “But we still have to plug away and put the ball in play and spread the ball around and run the bases a little bit better and be aggressive on the bases, and we just didn’t do that.”
With the trading deadline less then two weeks away and the Mets slipping further out of playoff contention, fans have to wonder: when will the fire sale begin?
“It isn’t just one thing,” outfielder Jason Bay said. “It’s a lot of things catching up to us.”
K-Rod has already been traded to the Brewers, and general manager Sandy Alderson has said repeatedly that future moves depend on how long the team can stay in contention. Beltran and Reyes are thought to be possible trade bait for the cash-strapped franchise.
New York is 12 games behind in the NL East and 9.5 games down in the Wild Card. Following a four-game winning streak, the Mets (47-48) have lost six of eight.
“We’ve gone through periods like this before when we had everybody healthy, and had some great games when we’ve had guys out,” Capuano said. “We’re just going through a little bit of a down spell right now.”
Mike Stanton hit a two-run double off Capuano and slumping Mike Cameron followed with an RBI single for Florida, on the cusp of escaping the NL East cellar.
The Marlins improved to 15-9 under 80-year-old manager Jack McKeon, who took over after Edwin Rodriguez abruptly resigned late in the team’s 1-19 June swoon.
In the makeup of a May 17 rainout, Hensley (1-2) allowed one hit over five scoreless innings against a depleted Mets lineup. It was his 41st big league start — but first since July 24, 2008, for San Diego. The right-hander made 20 relief appearances this season before a sprained shoulder sidelined him June 1.
Willie Harris’ first-inning double was the only hit given up by Hensley in an 84-pitch outing. Michael Dunn, Edward Mujica, Randy Choate and Leo Nunez completed the three-hitter.
For the diminutive Hensley, it was his first win since Aug. 31 against Washington — and first as a starter since Aug. 16, 2007, with the Padres against Colorado.
“It’s definitely a different beast than coming out of the bullpen and I haven’t done it in a while, so I was pretty fired up that first inning,” Hensley said. “But as the game started going on I kind of settled in and relaxed a little bit more.”
Choate gave up a leadoff single and a one-out walk in the ninth before going to a 2-0 count on Lucas Duda. That was enough for McKeon, who strolled to the mound and brought in Nunez as a furious Choate stomped around in the dugout.
“We’re interested in winning,” McKeon said. “We’re not going to worry about hurting anybody’s feelings. I would think that everyone on this club would be interested in winning, and that’s the way it’s going to be. If someone doesn’t like it, that’s too bad.”
Duda drew a walk, charged to Choate, before Bay’s sacrifice fly made it 4-1. With runners at the corners, Nunez retired Ronny Paulino on a slow grounder for his 27th save in 30 tries.
Harris’ double was New York’s lone hit until Nick Evans singled off Dunn to start the seventh. Harris also singled leading off the ninth.
McKeon stacked his lineup with eight right-handed batters, but Capuano (8-9) held Florida hitless until Hanley Ramirez singled on a two-strike pitch with two outs in the fourth. Gaby Sanchez walked and Stanton laced a two-run double to left-center.
Cameron, who began the night 3 for 20 (.150) with Florida, singled to make it 3-0.
“I was upset with giving up those three runs in the fourth because I thought my stuff was good enough to keep them at bay tonight,” said Capuano, who tossed a season-high 7 2-3 innings.
Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada made a spectacular play in the fifth when he ranged far into shallow center field for a fully extended, diving catch of Hensley’s soft looper.
Emilio Bonifacio singled to start the eighth, extending his career-best hitting streak to 17 games, and advanced on Omar Infante’s sacrifice. He stole third and scored on Logan Morrison’s single.
This was the first of seven games between the teams in a span of 17 days. Florida, which has won 13 of 17, made a one-game pit stop in New York between a four-game series at Wrigley Field and the start of a six-game homestand.
“I think we did a good job of not coming out flat and lackadaisical,” Morrison said.
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